On Day 2, we talked about DRNC’s super power, our “access authority” to investigate when we have cause to believe that disabled people are being abused or neglected. 

There’s another strong force that drives our work: DRNC’s commitment to the pursuit of justice and a fully inclusive, accessible community, where disabled individuals have equal opportunities and have power to make their own decisions. 

In this installment of 15 for 15, we focus on DRNC’s work to keep disabled students in school, and safe.  Every child in North Carolina has the constitutional right to a sound, basic education, yet many children with disabilities are routinely denied this basic right.

When a child with a disability is excluded from school, is abused or neglected, or needs support navigating an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Disability Rights North Carolina moves with righteous indignation at the injustice, stands tall and works hard in the face of adversity. DRNC works alongside families and caregivers who fight for the rights of their children. We draw inspiration and passion from the families who share their stories. The love that inspires our advocacy work is an unstoppable force without bounds.

Your child’s education rights at a glance 

Your child has the right to: 

  • Stay in school on a full day schedule. 
  • Receive individualized instruction to meet his or her unique needs. Your child’s unique needs can include challenging behaviors. 
  • Receive the supports and services he or she needs to succeed. 

School districts are required to provide a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) to all students, that meet’s the student’s individual needs, even if a child has a severe disability or challenging behavior. One way to ensure that programs meet individual needs is through the development of an individualized education program (IEP) for each student with a disability. 

But even with protections in place, some students with IEPs are being excluded from the education that their non-disabled peers are receiving, as a result of lack of effective special education instruction and race and income inequities. Black students with disabilities are excluded from school more often than white students with disabilities. In 2018-19, Black students with disabilities comprised only 31% of all students with IEPs in NC, yet those same students received over 63% of all long-term suspensions and expulsions. White students with disabilities comprised 45% of all students with IEPs in NC, yet received only 21% of all long-term suspension and expulsions. 

Additionally, many students with disabilities are subject to abuse at school, both because of physical and emotional abuse by school staff, and the use of seclusion, restraint, PRN (as needed) medication, or other techniques. Studies show that children with disabilities are much more vulnerable to abuse than their non-disabled peers. The problem gets worse when children struggle to communicate abuse because of their disability. In some cases, students are at more risk because staff do not report incidents, or the justice system declines to investigate or take legal action. 

How DRNC advocates for the education rights of students with disabilities

A number of students with disabilities in NC miss significant amounts of school due to: 

  • suspensions 
  • modified day schedules 
  • homebound placements 
  • alternative school placements 
  • court involvement 

Our main goal is to get these students back in school so they can make progress in school. We also work to keep them out of juvenile courts and detention centers. And we advocate to improve the quality of special education instruction. We want your students to have the services and support they need to succeed in school. 

How we work to return students to school and improve their chances of success 

  • Educating students, parents, and advocates about special education rights. 
  • Helping parents and advocates file formal and informal appeals to enforce those rights. 
  • Representing individual students on systemic legal issues.  
  • Securing changes to laws and procedures that are harmful to students with disabilities. 
  • Enforcing laws and procedures to protect students with disabilities. 

 Students with disabilities should be able to attend school in a safe environment, free from traumatic experiences, abuse, and abusive interventions. By investigating allegations of abuse and neglect in school, DRNC continues to ensure all children are treated fairly. Our focus on incidents leads to systemic change across multiple schools and school systems. But we need your help to identify issues in our communities, and your voice to represent justice.  

** The pandemic magnified inequities in our school systems, particularly for students with disabilities. If you need help accessing special education during COVID-19, read the linked article for more information, or reach out to us by phone (919-856-2195) or online. 

 Additional Resources: